What makes Alexander Great? His story has captured the imagination of authors, artists, philosophers, and politicians across more than two millennia. He has provided a point of convergence for religious and spiritual thinkers, he has been co-opted as a champion for gender and sexual openness, he represents a paradigm for would-be charismatic dictators (and their opponents), he gives us scientific imperialism and justification for conquistadorial dreaming, and he exemplifies the risks of cultural appropriation. To understand why Alexander resonates so widely across so many different fields of study, interest groups, and media, is an exercise in reception. This Alexander who has captured the imagination is triumphantly equivocal and it is in the plurality of traditions through which this complexity is expressed that his enduring “greatness” lies. The imaginary quality of Alexander is unsurprising because more profoundly than for any comparable individual from classical antiquity, his history is a product of reception from the start: every encounter with Alexander the Great is part of a conversation that depends substantially on accounts and narrative evidence from long after his death, and at the least at one remove from the historians who first and contemporaneously chronicled his life and achievements.
The extant Latin tradition of cento (the replication and combination of verse lines from a previous text to make a new work) largely uses the hexameter poems of Virgil, familiar to all educated Romans. The earliest extant cento proper is the 461-line tragedy Medea, usually ascribed to Hosidius Geta (200 ce), in which all the characters speak in Virgilian hexameters, and the choral lyrics consist entirely of final half-hexameters. There are eleven other pagan Virgilian centos from late antiquity, none longer than 200 lines; many are short epic narratives on mythological subjects (e.g., Mavortius’ Judgement of Paris [Iudicium Paridis]), but some are amusing parodies on trivial topics (e.g., the anonymous De alea and De panificio on dice playing and baking). The best known are the two epithalamian examples, the wittily obscene Nuptial cento (Cento nuptialis) of Ausonius, written c. 374, and the slightly less risqué Marriage-song of Fridus (Epithalamium Fridi) of Luxorius (early 6th century); Ausonius describes his technique in an important prefatory letter, classifying his cento as frivolum et nullius pretii opusculum—‘a slight work, frivolous and worthless’.